Cycling into Cartagena to spend time with Rebs’ youngest sister, Beany, we had a surprise reunion with Anderson, a lorry driver who picked up our conversation as if five months and 1,600km hadn’t passed since our last chance encounter. We were flabbergasted.
Cartagena bills itself as the jewel of South America, a ‘must’ on all guidebooks’ itinerary lists. The colourful, well-maintained architecture of the old town, the backdrop of the sea, the abundant Caribbean fruits sold on the streets: its first impression fulfils the hype. However, the constant offers of cocaine, prostitutes and artisan products – the seedy consequence of Cartagena’s appeal to tourists – are wearing.
The heat was so fierce that when not with Beany, we sat under the fan in our room, meaning endless episodes of our new favourite series, The Bachelorette, with Sol showering in every ad break.
We had a month before our parents arrived, and set off along the coast, to get a last hurrah of sunshine and Caribbean warm sea before Winter in Europe. The Colombian coast curves in large bays, with slight shifts in culture, colour, and atmosphere between each. We would leave a small fishing community with its deserted beach and clear green water – empty other than the boisterous Sunday local crowd – to spend some days by small series of rocky outcrops, beside holiday homes set back from the beach and a community geared towards year-round, low-key tourism from inland Colombians.
Thirty days, six beaches, twenty-one coconuts, two bottles of apple vodka, countless cocada sweets…
On Playa Blanca, Sol, desperate to escape the heat, made the foolhardy decision to sleep outside the protection of our tent. He maintains that a crab wanted to cosy up to him…whatever the motivation, a crab ventured inside his T-shirt and after an episode featuring much leaping, thrashing and finally, stripping off the T-shirt, left him with a big red pincer mark on his chest.
Berrugas will be remembered for the worms we discovered in our final bottle of water, after already drinking three bottles worth.
After three glorious days of sunshine in Rincón Del Mar, we were reminded it was rainy season by a heavy shower which woke us in the night. Hoping for a better final night’s sleep, we set up an elaborate moat and tarpaulin roof construction above and around the tent. Oh our smug smiles as we admired our work! But we had underestimated the coming deluge. A downpour that would have impressed Noah forced Sol outside the tent at 3am digging extra drainage canals in the sand while Rebs repegged the tent and shrieked as thunder and lightning crashed around us.
We started raiding coconuts from trees outside empty holiday homes in Playas Del Francés…they would only have gone to waste! The harder to reach coconuts required Rebs on all fours in the sand, with Sol – not so stealthily – standing on her back, swatting and tugging coconuts to the ground. We learnt our lesson. Eating four coconuts the first day, we experienced the laxative effect of coconut water. After that, we limited ourselves to one daily, seeking to avoid what we labelled ‘coconut bum’.
During our eight days on the idyllic beach of Palo Blanco, we took a day out to visit a local mud volcano. In a word, the mud was…thick. In two…very thick. From above, it was an apocalyptic vision of people slow-mo hauling themselves through the gloopy pit, the mud reluctantly releasing them with sucking noises. But once in, it was bliss. You can assume any position of your choosing and the mud supports you perfectly. All future seats / beds / hammocks now compare unfavourably to mud.
Our cycle back to Cartagena was our last day cycling in South America and we were saved feeling down by our upcoming two weeks with Beany and our parents, though we definitely felt a twinge of nostalgic goodbye.